CARSON CITY, Nev. (AP) -- A legislative budget panel voted Monday for Gov. Kenny Guinn's plan to sharply increase funding for state services to mentally ill and developmentally disabled Nevadans.
Guinn wants to spend nearly $193 million for mental health services for the upcoming two fiscal years, a 32 percent increase; and $172 million for developmental services, a 36 percent increase.
The budget subcommittee approved all but one of the Division of Mental Health and Developmental Services' budgets, and approved all the Republican governor's major spending increases.
Under the budgets approved by the subcommittee, rates for community-based service providers will increase 7 percent in fiscal 2004 and another 8 percent in fiscal 2005. Those rate increases will cost the state $6.5 million over the biennium.
While lawmakers and state administrators consider the move a significant step forward, a recent study showed Nevada is nearly 30 percent below the national average for its pay rates to service providers.
At a cost of $3.3 million, the division will also get an additional 16 beds for psychiatric observation to alleviate the influx of people waiting for services in hospital emergency rooms.
Carlos Brandenburg, the division administrator, said there's an average of 19 people per day in hospital emergency rooms while waiting for an observation bed.
Coinciding with the additional observation beds is a new program to provide 24-hour-a-day mental health services to hospital emergency rooms in southern Nevada for a price of $613,000 over the biennium.
Brandenburg said the service would be able to triage mental health patients at hospitals and divert them to community-based services if they don't need more restrictive treatment.
He said most emergency rooms have no psychiatric services available, and the program would cut into emergency room backlogs.
Assemblywoman Sheila Leslie, D-Reno, lauded the spending increases for mental health services in southern Nevada, but said it was still "a bare minimum response to the mental health needs."
Also approved was $678,000 to pay for the Washoe County mental health courts, which have been praised for keeping mentally ill people out of prison and in treatment programs.
The subcommittee also showed a strong commitment to helping families that treat their developmentally disabled residents at home. The members approved continuing a program providing $310 in cash assistance each month for such families.
The program, originally budgeted for 166 families for the current biennium, grew to 234 families that were actually served, dropping the amount of assistance. The subcommittee agreed to fully fund the additional cases, as well as 90 more cases in the next biennium.
Mental Health Services expects a caseload increase of more than 2,000 people over the upcoming two fiscal years. Developmental services, which provides aid to people with lifelong disabilities, such as mental retardation, expect an increase of more than 850 people.